The real drama is in the talk.
"But at my back I always hear/ Time's winged chariot hurrying near."
Jesse (Ethan Hawke) meets Celine (Julie Delpy) in Paris 9 years after a one-night stand. His book tour is over; he has only an hour before he goes to the airport, an hour before the sunset of their relationship. As director Richard Linklater ("Before Sunrise") tracks them through Paris streets renewing their passion, we are constantly aware Jesse must return to the airport. Marvel's "winged chariot" is ever present in "Before Sunset."
The tension and the love are balanced in the screenplay by writer/director Linklater with Hawke and Delpy's collaboration. The real drama is in the talk, whether it be about reincarnation, cable TV, or sex. The effortlessly natural conversation comes from the three's organic development of the material and the truth of the situation: These two loved each other for a brief moment and are capable of loving again even though he is married with a child and she has become cynical about love.
Hawke plays Jesse as nervous but romantically inclined (His book is about their affair). He shows discomfort at the beginning of their renewal just as any person would. Delpy plays her caution behind her chatterbox surface until the real feelings emerge above that surface. All the while the sun is ticking their time away.
Because the film is close to real time, the urgency is real and surprisingly dramatic. When Jesse tries to describe his frustrating marriage, he says, "I feel like I'm running a small nursery with someone I used to date." That's also good writing.
"Baby, you are gonna miss that plane," Celine says. Fade to credits.
Make sure you rent "Before Sunrise" and also hope Jesse misses the plane so that, in the spirit of Michael Apted's 7-up series, we can see how it all plays out in another 9 years when they reach their '40's.